Department of mystification

Some things are so complicated that you cannot understand how they could be so just through ignorance or negligence. The complexity seems to be there by design. Like bank notes, old style airline tickets, the table of contents of medicine or the back of a PC. When discussing examples of this approach, a friend of mine often refers to the ”Department of mystification”, whose obvious task would be to make things more complicated, enigmatic, mystic and intriguing. He means for example that Citroën must have had such a department in the 1970’s, for the design of the Citroën CX whose dashboard controls mostly worked differently from other cars, with a vast number of control lamps whose functions were impossible to memorise. Some sensemaking specialists call the opposite, even the effect of common branding and differentiation, ”strangemaking”.

While my own general ambition is to make things more obvious and easy to understand, I have also been reflecting on the question of how to make things more interesting, how to make things less banal, how to involve people. Obstacles for letting people reach their goals should be removed, yes, but I am not sure that a totally obvious product or service is the most functional or the most appreciated. Because one part of success is that people, users, consumers actually care. Apple seems to simplify every little component of the experience, but at the same time they also add mystery to their products; just in another way!

I just got this parcel, containing a spare part for my computer; a new keyboard. It has one manufacturer seal (Lenovo) and one service organisation seal (IBM). It has three labels with in total nine bar codes. It was delivered to my door by young man in his brown UPS uniform, requiring me to sign the delivery on the electronic thingy, and the guy even spoke with a light American accent. I have no doubt that the spare part is of top quality but the total experience of the delivery feels not far from getting a personal message from Obama himself.

Probably the work of the Department of mystification!

  1. 1 Comment(s)

  2. By Zigge on Jun 21, 2011 | Reply

    Olle, lovely blog! I had no idea of this site of yours though we’re friends since long. I experince a ”need” for witty people as you no doubt are, and as I feel you had very lttle comments here, I felt almost compelled to urge you to either get your own ”department of mystification” or the old fashioned sell-like-hell way, because you’re worth it!

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